Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU), Department of Engineering, working with a team of European Union scientists, have developed a new technology - a way to successfully wire a state-of-the-art artificial hand to existing nerve endings in the stump of a severed arm. The device, called "SmartHand," resembles - in function, sensitivity and appearance - a real hand. As a result, the project's first human subject, has not only been able to complete extremely complicated tasks like eating and writing, he reports he is also able to "feel" his fingers once again. The researchers believe that they have "successfully rewired the subject's mind to his hand."
The collaboration of TAU and Sweden's Lund University created the interface between the body's nerves and the device's electronics. The researchers point out that "perfectly good nerve endings remain at the stem of a severed limb. Our team is building the interface between the device and the nerves in the arm, connecting cognitive neuroscience with state-of-the-art information technologies."
TAU has one of the top labs in the world for nano-bio-interfacing science and their challenge in working with the SmartHand was to make an electrode that was not only flexible, but could be implanted in the human body and function properly for at least 20 years. Built into the device are tactile sensors, so the information transfer goes two ways. These allow for complex movements and carying out difficult tasks like eating and writing. The SmartHand project was able to integrate recent advances in today's "intelligent" prosthetic hands with all the basic features of a flesh-and-blood hand. Four electric motors and 40 sensors are activated when the SmartHand touches an object, not only replicating the movement of a human hand, but also providing the wearer with a sensation of feeling and touch.
While the prototype appears very "bionic" now, in the future SmartHand scientists plan to equip it with artificial skin that will give the brain even more tactile feedback. The researchers will also study amputees equipped with the SmartHand to understand how to improve the device over time.
The test subject will be able to keep the artificial smarthand as long as he wishes. He commented "I am using muscles which I haven't used for years. I grab something hard, and then I can feel it in the fingertips, which is strange, as I don't have them anymore. It's amazing."Posted by rsk at November 5, 2009 10:05 AM